Information and communication technologies (ICTs) could transform agricultural activities in many parts of the world. In some countries, ICTs are helping farmers to increase their yields and income, but much more remains to be done. Benjamin Addom, CTA programme coordinator, ICT for development, tells us more about the importance of ICTs for improving rural livelihoods by enhancing access to information.
What does ICT4Ag involve at CTA?
ICT4Ag at CTA is based on the principle that ICTs are useful tools and should be exploited, based on their function, within any given sector. CTA uses ICTs to achieve its mission to advance food and nutritional security in ACP countries. ICTs are used to champion practical, cost-effective and scalable solutions that impact lives. We keep our stakeholders up-to-date on emerging innovations in ICTs; support them to identify viable ICT4Ag solutions; strengthen their capacities in using these solutions; and provide platforms for deliberations with policymakers. CTA's ICT4Ag strategy is holistic and forward-looking, including all stakeholder groups both in its design and use. CTA is aware that the use of ICTs in agriculture is not new but we are convinced that its recent rise in popularity is here to stay; ICTs have high potential to transform agriculture.
To what extent do ICT4Ag capacity building activities play a crucial role in enhancing access to agricultural and rural development information in ACP countries?
The question is, ICT capacity building for what? We emphasise capacity building in ICTs for agricultural and rural development: ICTs are the "means" rather than the "end". We also believe that capacity building goes beyond training to the provision of relevant resources. ICT4Ag capacity building has three levels of stakeholder: institutional, grassroots, and the individual. Institutionally, emphasis is placed on how partners use ICTs to improve collaborative production and sharing of content, for example Web 2.0 and social media training opportunities. At a grassroots level, we aim to empower communities through demand- driven, user-friendly and integrated applications, such as the Participatory Geographic Information System. At an individual level, we aim to build capacity of the individual user to adopt and use these applications for agriculture, for example Apps4Ag learning opportunities.
What would be your three main recommendations to decision- makers in order to create an enabling environment for adoption of ICT4Ag?
i) Need for political buy-in: We need more high-level politicians in ACP countries to be actively involved. By this I mean digital champions and ambassadors who are passionate about those at the grassroots being able to take advantage of this revolution in ICTs for agriculture. Without political buy-in, we risk losing the current momentum.
ii) Support sound e-agricultural strategy development and promotion: At the moment the field of ICT4Ag at a national level is at the mercy of the value-added services and mobile network operators. There is a lack of systematic dissemination of information using ICTs. We need our policymakers to step in and support sector strategies for better service provision.
iii) Ensure a conducive atmosphere for private sector investment in ICTs: Hundreds of thousands of fibre optic cables have been installed. It is time for national governments to put in place appropriate policies and strategies for the strategic distribution of cables. Without this, cables will run along one profitable route, detrimental to agricultural stakeholders in rural areas.
Are smallholder farmers and fisherfolk in ACP countries really benefiting from the digital revolution?
This is a challenging question. My answer is yes and no. Yes, because we have evidence of ICTs' impact on users. No, because we can literally count those success stories. The majority of target users are yet to join the revolution. We see and read anecdotal cases of impact here and there but we are also aware that uptake by millions of smallholders remains very low. Our experience tells us that the issue is about more than just access to technology, but the innovative use of these technologies. ICTs are more than single mobile applications; they involve the convergence of various channels. CTA has recently initiated Building Viable Delivery Models for ICT4Ag, within which, 'proof of concept' projects serving to demonstrate how ICTs can empower smallholder farmers economically through viable models, are being explored. We believe that, through collaboration and partnership, millions of smallholder farmers across the developing world can benefit from the potential of new ICTs for agricultural development.
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